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Virgin pilot flared 737 ‘late’ in March hard landing, says ATSB

written by Jake Nelson | December 12, 2023

A Virgin Australia 737-800, VH-VUS, on approach to Sydney Airport. (Image: Craig Murray)

A hard landing by a Virgin Australia 737-800 at Sydney in March was caused by issues with pilot training, the ATSB has found.

Flight VA916 from Brisbane, on 10 March, landed with a force of 2.96 Gs following an initial bounce, caused by the aircraft being flared late. The aircraft, VH-YQR (similar plane pictured), was undamaged, and none of the 179 passengers or six crew members aboard were injured.

“The ATSB found that during the final approach, the first officer flared the aircraft later than they normally did, and the throttle was not reduced to idle prior to the initial touchdown, resulting in the aircraft bouncing approximately 3 ft,” said ATSB acting director transport safety Derek Hoffmeister.

“During the bounce, the ground spoilers and speed brakes automatically deployed, resulting in a hard landing.”

The first officer, who was new to the 737-800, had completed type rating with CAE under contract with Virgin Australia.


According to the ATSB’s report, they had been trained to flare at 30 feet rather than Boeing’s recommended 20 feet despite being aware of what Virgin’s training manuals and conversion course training required, and had flared at 30 feet during all their previous landings prior to the incident.

“On the day of the occurrence, the first officer recalled, they were flying with a check captain, so they made a last-minute decision to follow the operator’s procedures, and initiate flaring the aircraft at 20 ft,” said Hoffmeister.

“This introduced an unfamiliarity and uncertainty, which most likely led to misjudgement resulting in the aircraft being flared late and the thrust not being reduced prior to the initial touchdown.

“Since the incident, the training provider has completed several actions, including a risk assessment in pilot training assessment, and reviewing and amending all relevant courseware.”

CAE is no longer being used as a type rating provider by Virgin for unrelated reasons.

“This incident highlights how important it is that operators ensure external training providers align their training with the operator’s flight procedures,” said Hoffmeister.

“Ensuring pilots are trained as they are expected to fly will ensure they are well prepared especially during the critical flight phases.”

CAE has been contacted for comment.

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